Annie’s Plaid Shirt (2015) is the cleverly crafted tale of a plaid shirt loving girl whose mother doesn’t quite understand how important her shirt is to her identity. Written by Stacy B. Davids, a clinical psychologist, and warmly illustrated by Rachel Balsaitis, this text earns four thumbs up from me and my three-year-old. In fact, he’s made me read it so many times it felt like a betrayal to pick it up on my own to write a review!
On a typical day Annie wears red sneakers and jeans along with her plaid shirt. She lets the long curly hair that surrounds her light brown face fly free as she skateboards through town. Annie doesn’t seem to notice her peers’ confused responses to her boyish appearance.
Annie lives with a loving brother and mother, providing a needed image of single-parent households as caring and supportive. The kitchen serves as the family hub with photos and children’s drawings decorating the refrigerator. It’s in the kitchen that conflict is introduced into the text. While the family is gathered around the table Annie’s mom mentions that they need to buy outfits for an upcoming wedding. Annie casually tells her mom she’ll just wear her plaid shirt. Her mom tells her she’ll need to wear a dress.
The family takes a trip to the mall where Annie tries on several dresses. She wears her discomfort on her body with crossed arms and tight lips. Her mother loves how Annie looks in one of the dresses and they purchase it, but Annie is not happy.
At home Annie runs to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. If the kitchen represents a space where the family comes together, Annie’s bedroom represent her personal space, a window into her world. The room is decorated in blues, greens, and her drawings of dinosaurs and giraffes. The text reads: “She wished her mom understood her. Annie felt weird in dresses. She was happiest when she wore her plaid shirt. Why couldn’t her mom see that?” Annie is disappointed in her mother for not understanding how much wearing her plaid shirt means to her.
Albert, Annie’s brother, is a good ally. While Annie is tucked away in her bedroom he begins a conversation with their mother about Annie’s dress. He wants to know why his mother is making her wear it. His mom reflects and responds that she is afraid of what other people will think.
The day of the wedding Annie and Albert conspire to dress Annie formally without abandoning her plaid shirt, no easy feat! Albert has given Annie one of his old suits to wear with her plaid shirt and a bow tie. Instead of being angry and demanding Annie wear her new dress, the children’s mother applauds their resourcefulness.
I love that this book shows a warm, supportive family, a mother willing to reflect on her own discomfort with her child’s lack of gender conformity, and a brother willing to stick up for his sister. Davids creates complex children characters and treats them with dignity as they work together to resolve the story’s primary conflict creatively.
The majority of picture books depicting gender expansive children focus on young boys, so this is a much needed contribution to the field. I strongly recommend this important picture book. Along with introducing a character that’s been missing from picture books — a gender expansive young girl — the story is a fun book about necessary defiance, self-advocacy, and the importance of family support.